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‘Wash your stinking hands!’: ER nurse rants about ‘cesspool of funky flu’

In a video posted to Facebook Jan. 27, nurse Katherine Smith Lockler explained how easy it is to spread the flu. (Video: Katherine Smith Lockler/Facebook)
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A Florida nurse working to combat “a cesspool of funky flu” in the emergency room has gained widespread attention from a viral video on social media urging people to take precautions to avoid influenza.

After a 12-hour night shift last week in an emergency room in northwest Florida, Katherine Lockler, a registered nurse, offered some expert medical advice.

“Here are some ideas how to treat the flu at home — wash your stinking hands,” she said in the video, which has since been viewed more than 5 million times.

Lockler said she has been most concerned with what she has seen in the hospital.

“The biggest problem for me was seeing people come in to visit [the ER] and not only being exposed to this awful flu virus, but not taking the correct precautions to get themselves disinfected before going out in the world,” Lockler, from Milton, Fla., told the Pensacola News Journal.

Lockler could not be immediately reached for comment by The Washington Post.

This flu season's hospitalizations are highest in nearly a decade

Lockler posted the animated — and somewhat saucy — video Saturday, explaining to people how the flu is contracted and how to help keep it from spreading.

“If you're not aware of how the flu is spread, the only way you can get it is through your eyes, your nose or your mouth,” she said.

She then demonstrated how to minimize the transmission of germs while sneezing, quipping, “Watch this — I'm going to teach you all a magic trick. It's amazing.” She filmed herself fake sneezing into the inside of her elbow — a move that's commonly recommended by health professionals as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For those who missed it, Lockler did it again in “slow motion.”

Lockler also warned healthy people to avoid emergency rooms.

“It is a cesspool of flu — a cesspool of funky flu at the ER right now,” she said in the video, explaining how — hypothetically — players on a softball team should not come to the hospital to visit a sick or injured teammate. “Because guess what? You just got maybe 15 new vectors, or carriers of the flu, by them all walking in.

“Please don't bring your team in. Please don't bring your healthy children — especially your newborn babies — into the emergency room,” she said. “If you don't have what I call a true emergency, this would not be the time to come to the emergency room.”

Lockler told Pensacola News Journal in a phone interview Wednesday that she has personally witnessed some of the carelessness.

“I saw a dad with a toddler crawling on the floor in the emergency room, and I approached him, and I said, ‘Hey, dad, I do not feel that that's a wise decision; your child is being exposed to some really nasty germs on this emergency room floor,’ ” she told the newspaper. “And instead of the dad receiving what a nurse of 10 years is sharing with him, he said, ‘Eh, it's no big deal, it'll build his immune system.’ So there's a lack of understanding and a lack of interest in knowing what to do to protect themselves sometimes.”

As for the tone of the video, Lockler said that it might sound parental, but her intentions were to educate — not to insult anyone.

“I think there's a little bit of sarcasm in my voice because the instructions were given so many times, and they were not received well,” she told the News Journal. “I tend to be sarcastic in all my speaking, but if it's taken wrong, I would definitely apologize to that group that misheard my message because of my tone. The message is still right on the money, but if the tone was offensive, that was not the intention.”

Here's what you should know about the flu season this year

As The Post's Lena H. Sun reported, the worst flu season in years is spreading across the United States, with a sharp increase in the number of older people and children being hospitalized, according to the CDC. Since the start of the flu season in October, more than 14,600 people have been hospitalized — the highest number of those were adults older than 50 and children younger than 4, according to the most recent data released Friday by the CDC.

“As of this week, overall hospitalizations are now the highest we've seen” in nearly a decade, Anne Schuchat, CDC’s acting director, said Friday in a news conference.

The CDC said that during the week ending Jan. 27, the agency received reports of 16 children who recently died of influenza and related complications. In total, the agency said, 53 children have died during the current flu season.

The CDC lists ways to help avoid the flu — including getting the vaccine.

  • If you are healthy, avoid contact with those who are sick. And if you are sick, limit contact with those who are healthy.
  • When you cough or sneeze, cover your nose and mouth with a tissue. If you don't have a tissue, use your upper sleeve.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when washing them is not an option.

Since Lockler's video, an online petition is urging support for “ER nurses and staff and the spreading of education during this horrible flu season.”

The petition, which had garnered nearly 4,400 signatures by early Friday afternoon, said that the nurse “posted an amazing video to Facebook regarding the flu and how it is spread along with great tips on home treatment. For her time and effort, she is being reported to the board of registered nursing and her hospital.”

Brad Dalton, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Health, told The Post that he cannot comment on complaints unless probable cause is established. If the department “does not find sufficient information (probable cause) to further investigate the complaint,” it is not made public, he said in an email.

In her video, Lockler explained that during this year's flu season, many ER nurses are working 12-hour shifts with about “five seconds to eat.”

“Please thank an ER nurse — and every nurse and doctor [who] is taking care of sick people right now,” Lockler added. “We're putting ourselves into the thick of some nasty germs to help.”

This story has been updated.

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